David Copperfield Based on The Life of Charles Dickens

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      When David is in Switzerland (Chapter L VIII) he says, "I wrote a story, with a purpose growing, not remotely, out of my experience." Dickens wrote David Copperfield in England, but the sentence might equally well be applied to it. After finishing the novel. Dickens remarked that he liked it best of all his books. His fondness for this child of his fancy, as he called it was partly due to this fact that the novel was reminiscent of his own early life. Not autobiography exactly, the novel exhibits parallels between the careers of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield. D.C. is reversed of C.D.


(1) Parallel between Childhood of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield

      Born at Landport in 1812, his father, John Dickens was employed by the Navy Pay Office. The family lived in Landport 1812-14, London 1814-16, Chatham 1816-22. At Chatham, his mother taught Charles his letters and he was sent to a small school kept by Mr. Giles, a Baptist minister. He read privately the same novels David Copperfield read which his father possessed and he was made to go to Church. In 1822 John Dickens was recalled to London. Charles made the coach journey to London by himself sometime after the departure of the rest of the family.

      The circumstances of David's childhood - his posthumous birth and the Murdstones—are pure fiction and have no parallel in Dickens's life, but Dickens drew on his own experiences for the account of David's boyish Church-going (Chapter 11 and IV ); the lessons with his mother (Chapter (IV ); the secret reading of Smollett, Fielding, Goldsmith, Defoe, etc. (IV); and some aspects of the coach journey to London (V).

(2) Parallel between the Life of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield in London: Difficulties of their Parents

      In London John Dickens soon got into debt. To help matters Mrs. Dickens tried to start a school but could get no pupils. In February 1824, John Dickens was taken to the Marshalsea prison and the family stayed on in Gower Street, pawning everything till they were finally left "camping" in a bare house. Young Charles had thus plenty of experience of pawn shops. For raising money he was sent to work in a blacking factory managed by his step-cousin, James Lamert. He worked at parceling and labeling blacking bottles along with two other boys, Bob Fagin and Poll Green and suffered untold mental torture from this menial employment. When there was nothing left to pawn, the family went to live with the father on Sundays. In Marshalsea, John Dickens drew up a petition to the King asking for money to enable the prisoners to drink his Majesty's health on his forthcoming birthday A fellow prisoner, Captain Porter, kept reading out this petition. In May 1824, John Dickens was released from the Marshalsea having received a small legacy and by using the Insolvent Debtors' Act. When his father was freed, Charles was taken out of the blacking factory and sent to school.

      In the novel, relationships, places and times are changed in the use of these episodes. Mr. Micawber is modeled on Dickens's father whom he resembles in his lack of money; magniloquence, fondness for making punch, and his large family. Mrs. Micawber, like Mrs. Dickens, tries to start a school, with the same lack of success. The Micawbers also pawn everything till they are left "camping" in a bare house before finally joining Mr. Micawber in prison - which is changed from Marshalsea to the King's Bench; David, like Charles, has a lodging near enough to pay visits. Mr. Micawber, too, draws up a petition to the king and Hopkins is there to read it out. The miseries of David at Murdstone and Grinby's are the miseries of Charles Dickens in the blacking factory. Mr. Quinion is James Lamert and Mick Walker and Mealy Patotoes are Bob Fagin and Poll Green. David’s life in London was similar to Charles, but the blacking bottles of real life are changed to wine bottles in the novel and Charles did not run away from the factory as David did from Murdstone and Grinby's Mr. Micawber too, leaves prison by use of the Insolvent Debtors' Act.

(3) Parallel between Schools of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield

      Dickens was twelve years old when he went to the Wellington House Academy as a day scholar (though there were boarders). It was owned by a Welshman called Jones who was very fond of using the rod. Dickens was there from 1824 to 1826 and seems to have been fairly happy during this time. He left to go to another school kept by Mr. Dawson.

      Salem House is, undoubtedly, modeled on Wellington House Academy, and Creakle on Jones, though the cruelties are some what exaggerated in the novel. The ages are different - David was only eight or nine when he went to Salem House and David was a border. When David went to school again at Doctor Strong's, (Chapter XVI) his feelings must have been precisely those of Dickens when he went to school after the blacking factory.

(4) Parallels between Charles Dickens and David Copperfield joining Lawyer’s Office

      In 1827 Dickens left school to go into a lawyer's office as an office boy, not as an articled pupil.

      David goes into a lawyer's office after leaving school, but he is articled.

(5) Parallels between Charles Dickens and David Copperfield as Parliamentary Reporters

      Disliking the work of lawyers offices, Dickens set to work at learning shorthand with the idea of becoming a Parliamentary reporter. When he had become proficient in it, not being able to get employment as a Parliamentary reporter, he became a shorthand writer-reporter at Doctors' Commons (1829-31). In 1832 he worked as a Parliamentary reporter in the Gallery in which capacity he worked first for The Mirror of Parliament and later for The Morning Chronicle.

      After Miss Trotwood announces the loss for her property (Chapter XXXIV) David learns shorthand with the intention of earning money as a Parliamentary reporter (Chapter XXXVI). His struggles with it is Dickens's ("about equal in difficulty to the mastery of six languages.") and his success similar - "! am in high repute for my accomplishment in all pertaining to art, and am joined with eleven others reporting the debates in Parliament for "A Morning Newspaper" (Chapter XLIII). There is no parallel in Dickens's work and David's at Doctors' Commons, but it is obvious that Dickens used his own experience of the Commons in the detailed description of that institution in the novel.

(6) Parallel between Love Affairs of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield

      In 1830, whilst at Doctors' Commons, Dickens fell in love with Maria Beadnell and the affair lasted three years though there was no formal engagement, and it finally came to nothing. Maria had a confidante in a certain Miss Mary Anne Leigh.

      This experience is, undoubtedly, portrayed in David's falling in love with Dora with the difference that David married Dora. When Dickens did eventually marry, his marriage was a failure because of mental incompatibility and the David-Dora episode Dickens telescoped his early love affair with Maria and the failure of his own married life later on. Maria's confidante is paralleled in Miss Julia Mills.

(7) Parallel between Authorships of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield

      While working as reporter for The Morning Chronicle Dickens began to write for magazines, under the pseudonym Boz. His first story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk, was published in The Monthly Magazine, December, 1833 and a collection of his sketches of London life and manners previously published in a magazine was brought out in 1836 in a volume entitled Sketches by Boz.

      David, too whilst working as a Parliamentary reporter, has to say—"I have come out in another way. I have taken with fear and trembling to authorship. I wrote a little something, in secret, and sent it to a magazine, and it was published in the magazine. Since then, I have taken heart to write a good many trifling pieces. Now, I am regularly paid for them" (Chapter XLIII).

(8) Parallel between Charles Dickens and David Copperfield in their Works of Fiction

      In March 1836, the first number of Pickiaick appeared—it was published in monthly installments. After four or five numbers it became a great success, so much that at the end of 1836 Dickens gave up his Parliamentary reporting and devoted all his time to writing Oliver Tiuist concurrently with Pickwick and soon starting Nicholas Nickleby.

      Comparing David Copperfield (Chap. XLVI)—"For my success had steadily increased with my steady application, and I was engaged at that time upon my first work of fiction." And to Chapter XLIII "I labored hard at my book without allowing it to interfere with the punctual discharge of my newspaper duties." When my new success was achieved, I considered myself reasonably entitled to escape from the dreary debates.

(9) Parallel between Charles Dickens's and David Copperfield's Marriages

      Dickens married Catherine Hogarth in April 1836. She was the daughter of George Hogarth, editor of The Evening Chronicle. Her sister, Mary Hogarth, for whom Dickens had a great admiration, died in 1837 at the age of seventeen. Dickens's wife proved impractical and incompatible in temperament to him, and they eventually separated in 1858, but there was no divorce.

      Dickens drew on the experience of his own marriage for the mental incompatibility of David and Dora, but there is no other resemblance. In his description of Agnes; the perfect woman, Dickens probably had in mind his sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth.

(10) Parallel between Charles Dickens' and David Copperfield's Visits Abroad

      Some of Dickens's work was done abroad. In 1844 he visited Italy, and in 1846 Switzerland, where he wrote Dombey and Son.

      In Chapter L VIII David mentions his travels in Italy and his settling down to write in Switzerland. The reason for his travels has no parallel in Dickens's life.

David Copperfield is Charles Dickens

      Some biographers have gone so far as to say that David is Dickens. But we need not identify them so closely. Dickens made some parallels between the two and used this to bring in ideas and descriptions of some of his own personal experiences. The autobiographical details are thus not thrust in obtrusively but are part and parcel of the whole story, and read in this light, the novel can tell us more about Dickens than his biographers. Thus it will be seen that there is some similarity in the careers of Charles Dickens and David Copperfield, but they are far from being identical; and whilst noting personal experiences which Dickens has used, we must not ignore the imaginative aspects and regard the book as pure and simply an autobiography; for this, it is not.

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